Saturday, September 16, 2017

Come to the Supermarket in Old Peking: The Linocuts of Katharine Jowett

Katharine Jowett (1882-1972) was born in Northamptonshire, England, the daughter of Reverend Timothy Wheatley, a minister at the Mint Methodist Church in Exeter.  (Other on-line sources erroneously state that she was born around 1890-1892.)  Jowett’s mother’s family, the Pearses, were early followers of John Wesley.  In 1904, Jowett went to China, following a Methodist missionary that she intended to marry.

 
Hata Gate, Peking
(watercolor)

After arriving in China, Jowett decided that she did not wish to marry the object of her affection. Instead, she married the Reverend Hardy Jowett, who came to China in 1896 as a Methodist missionary.  During the Great War, Hardy Jowett was appointed an officer in the Chinese Labour Corps and also served in France.  After the war, he was appointed Junior and then Senior District Officer of Wei Hai Wei.  He subsequently accepted an offer from the Asiatic Petroleum Company to become its Peking Manager, a post he retained until his retirement in 1933.  So it appears that Katharine Jowett was living in Peking since at least the mid-1920s. Based on the age of her oldest son, she would have married Hardy Jowett by early 1911 at the latest. Given that she gave birth to that son in England in 1912,  and had a second son at some point, I suspect that the outbreak of WWI meant that she remained in England until after the war was over.

Temple Entrance
(watercolor)

The Jowetts were socially prominent expats in Peking in the twenties and thirties.  Hardy Jowett, for example, was a member of the Rotary Club, Toc H, the China International Famine Relief Commission, the Peiping Institute of Fine Arts, the College of Chinese Studies, and the British Chamber of Commerce.  While Katharine Jowett is not known to have had any formal art training, she presumably started to paint before traveling to China.  Near as I can tell, she seems to have turned to linocut printing as a new pastime once her children were substantially grown.  (Gordon at the Modern Printmakers blog speculates that she might have learned to make linocuts from one of Claude Flight’s books and from some other printmaker such as Isabel de B Lockyer.)  Jowett’s paintings and prints were popular among the upper class Chinese and Western population in China.  Two of her linoleum cuts were used to illustrate articles published in the Christian Science Monitor in 1934 and 1935.  Chairman Mao is said to have had a set of her prints in his office.

Jowett’s husband Hardy died in 1936.  Thereafter, Jowett presumably lived off of her husband’s pension as occasionally supplemented by the sales of her paintings and prints.  The print collector and dealer Robert O. Muller visited her in Peking in 1940 on his honeymoon trip to Asia.  Although she was only 58 years old at the time, he called her “a pleasant, cultured, elderly English woman” who had “not made many prints.”  If Jowett was still making prints by that point, the outbreak of WWII would shortly put an end to such efforts because she was interned by the Japanese in a prisoner of war camp.  Although she met and became close to a German baron in that camp, Jowett never remarried. After the war, Jowett returned to England and died in Okehampton in 1972, where her youngest son practiced medicine.  She is buried in the Pearse family graveyard in Sticklepath, outside of Okehampton.

Temple of Heaven
Personal Collection
(watercolor)

Unlike traditional woodblock prints, Jowett did not use a keyblock to outline her design.  (Even some contemporaneous Japanese woodblock print artists like Ito Yuhan were starting to dispense with the use of a keyblock to give prints the softer look of watercolors.)  Jowett, however, eschewed  the use water-based pigments in favor of oil-based inks (that have a regrettable tendency to rust), and layered her colors in the manner of an impressionistic painting.  Her linocuts all have a thick dark printed border, reminiscent of woodblock prints from the Arts and Crafts movement.

The conventional wisdom is that Jowett produced 20-25 very small, self-published linocut designs, not counting variants.  By my count she made half again as many such designs.  While most of her prints are small, they come in a surprising number of different sizes, and I’ve seen one with the image as large as 28.8 cm x 21 cm. Some of her prints appear in editions of 100 or 200.  Many are hand-titled (although not always consistently).  Another interesting facet of Jowett’s prints is that they are not infrequently touched up by hand with paint.

Peking Temple of Heaven
(lithograph)

The subject of all of Jowett’s prints is Peking itself.  She never ventures further than the Summer Palace, and her principal focus is the towers and gates of Peking’s inner and outer walls (some of which no longer exist) and the city’s most famous temples and pagodas.  A few commercial shopping streets are also depicted, but it is the Chinese architecture that appears to primarily interest Jowett.  If people appear in Jowett’s prints, they are faceless entities, props strategically deployed to insure her designs do not become overly static.  Another notable feature is her choice of perspective.  It is seldom completely straightforward, usually slightly askew, but never exaggerated or contrived.  Her goal is simply to engage the viewer, not to grandstand.

Since Jowett's prints are not dated, I have decided to group them as best I could by subject matter, going roughly west to east from north Peking to South Peking.  While variant states of some of Jowett's linocuts do exist, I've only listed those states that materially vary in some way other than in her use of color unless Jowett herself ascribed a different title to the variant color scheme.  Indeed, since her pigments are susceptible to fading, a digital image that at first blush might appear to be a color variant in reality may be nothing more than a faded copy.

Camel Train Outside Peking
Courtesy of Hanga.com
(linocut)

Jade Fountain Pagoda
Courtesy of Hanga.com
(linocut)

Moon Gate, Peking
Personal Collection
(linocut)

Guardian of the Gate
Courtesy of the Annex Galleries
(linocut, edition of 100)

Bell Tower, Peking
(linocut)

Bell Tower by Moonlight (color variant)
Courtesy of Hanga.com
(linocut)

[Lama Temple]
Courtesy of Hanga.com
(linocut, edition of 200)

Temple of Ten Thousand Blessings
Courtesy of Hanga.com
(linocut)

The Barbican Gate, Tartar Wall, Peking
(linocut, edition of 100)

[White Pagoda, Pei Hai, Peking]
Courtesy of Hanga.com
(linocut)

[Temple Complex]
Courtesy of the Floating World Gallery
(linocut, edition of 200)

Coal Hill, Peking
Courtesy of the Annex Galleries
(linocut)

[Evening on Coal Hill]
Courtesy of Keith Sheridan Inc.
(linocut)

Corner of Forbidden City
Courtesy of the Annex Galleries
(linocut)

[Sunshine and Solitude in the Forbidden City, Peking]
Personal Collection
(linocut)

Woo Men, Forbidden City, Peking
Personal Collection
(linocut)

[East Gate]
Courtesy of Japan Prints
(linocut)

Sunset Behind East Gate, Peking
Personal Collection
(linocut)
 
Gloaming, Peking
Courtesy of Hanga.com
(linocut, edition of 200)

The City Gate, Peking
Personal Collection
(linocut, edition of 200)

Through the City Gate
Courtesy of Hanga.com
(linocut, edition of 200)

Tien An Mien, Peking
Courtesy of Hanga.com
(linocut, edition of 200)

Chien Men, Peking
Courtesy of the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria
(linocut, edition of 100)

Street Outside Chien Men, Peking
Personal Collection
(linocut)

[Chinese Street]
Courtesy of Hanga.com
(linocut, edition of 100 or 200)

Lanterns in the Wind, Peking
Courtesy of Hanga.com
(linocut)

Peking (aka Gate of the Rising Sun, Peking)
Personal Collection
(linocut)

[Gateway of the Rising Sun, Peking]
Courtesy of Skinner Auctioneers
(linocut)

Hata Gate, Peking
Courtesy of the Annex Galleries
(linocut)

Hata Gate, Peking (variant)
Personal Collection
(linocut)

 Note:  This copy, which has an extra figure in the bottom left corner is trimmed to the margins and signed inside the image.  It might be a discarded trial proof.

[Hata Gate, South Wall, Peking]
Courtesy of Stevens Fine Art
(linocut, edition of 200)

[Gate, Peking]
Courtesy of Keith Sheridan Inc.
(linocut)

The Pai Lou, Peking
Courtesy of the Joseph Lebovic Gallery
(linocut, edition of 200)

 
[Early Morning Inside Hata Men Gate (aka The Fox Tower)]
Personal Collection
(linocut)

Altar of Heaven, Peking
Personal Collection
(linocut, edition of 100)

 
Temple of Heaven, Peking
Courtesy of the Annex Galleries
(linocut, edition of 200)

[Temple of Heaven, Peking]
Courtesy of Hanga.com
(linocut)

[Temple of Heaven, Peking]
Courtesy of the Floating World Gallery
(linocut, edition of 100)

[Temple of Heaven, Peking (variant with clouds)]
Courtesy of Hanga.com
(linocut)

If readers are aware of further linocut designs by Katharine Jowett, please let me know.

Special thanks to Robin Devereaux at Hanga.com.